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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Pastner recruits Walton to Memphis

Lawrence K. Ho
The Los Angeles Lakers’ Luke Walton, right, battles against the Cleveland Cavaliers’ Ramon Sessions in the first half at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, California, on Tuesday, January 11, 2011. The Lakers walloped the Cavs, 112-57. (Lawrence K. Ho/Los Angeles Times/MCT)

While NBA players like Derrick Williams have traveled the country and globe to play in glorified pick-up games during the dark cloud of the league lockout, others are taking more unique approaches.

Enter Arizona alumnus Luke Walton.

The Los Angeles Lakers forward was recommended on Monday to join Josh Pastner’s coaching staff at the University of Memphis should the school and Tennessee Board of Regents approve the move.

“I hired Luke because I felt that he was the best man for the job to help us for this year,” Pastner said in a phone interview with the Daily Wildcat on Monday evening. “I wanted to think outside of the box, get a little innovative and hire a current guy in the NBA, a current player. I thought that would be great.”

Pastner, a former UA walk-on and assistant coach, originally wanted to hire former Pittsburgh and University of Nevada, Las Vegas head coach Tim Grgurich, but when Grgurich declined, Pastner turned to the fellow former Wildcat.

Walton’s interest grew after he coached at the NBA players association camp and “absolutely loved it,” according to Pastner. Memphis’ 33-year-old head coach couldn’t turn down Walton’s winning pedigree.

“The guy’s been to four world championships, he’s got two titles, he’s been arguably under one of the great coaches in all of sports in Phil Jackson and played long seasons with Kobe Bryant,” Pastner said. “I think the guy’s got a wealth of knowledge, and he’s going to help us right away this year.”

Pastner said Walton will handle the Memphis big men, while having a hand in recruiting and becoming “heavily involved in relationships with our current guys too.”

In theory, Walton will be able to spread his wealth of knowledge to the Tigers’ players immediately, but there’s undoubtedly a risk that comes with hiring a current NBA player.

As he’s signed with the Lakers for two more seasons, Walton will return to the NBA once the lockout ceases, and if it ends sooner rather than later, Pastner will once again be on the hunt for a new assistant coach.

But despite that risk, Pastner is confident in the decision.

“It is a calculated risk but I felt the rewards outweigh the risk when you’ve got a guy who can help currently right now,” Pastner said. “It’s a no-brainer.”

Pastner told Memphis media that he’s already been sending Walton DVDs of Memphis’ basketball philosophies and mapped out time for the NBA role player to remain in shape for the NBA.

Walton graduated from Arizona in 2003 and was drafted by the Lakers, where he’s averaged five points, 2.9 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game in his career. At Arizona, he was a two-time captain and won two Pacific 10 Conference Championships. He also was a member of the 2001 team that lost to Duke in the NCAA title game.

It comes as no surprise that Pastner hired another Wildcat product, as his staff already features former Arizona guard Damon Stoudamire and former UA basketball staffer Jack Murphy, who is also the son-in-law of former Arizona athletic director Jim Livengood.

But Pastner made it clear that the ever-growing list of Wildcats on his staff is more of a coincidence than anything.

“It’s not what the intent is to be, it’s just a lot of the relationships, and some of the really good guys that I’ve wanted to hire are Arizona guys,” Pastner said. “It’s more coincidence than intent.”

Regardless of the intent, Walton will most likely be sitting on the Memphis sidelines come college basketball season. Even if the NBA season begins from December through March, Walton’s presence will make a positive impact on the Tigers should he leave mid-NCAA season.

“He does want to coach when he’s done playing,” Pastner told the Memphis media. “For us, I felt like this is what’s best for our guys right now.

“People said, ‘hey why did you make this hire?’ These guys (recruits and current Memphis players) all want to have the opportunity to play at the next level. Since I didn’t play in the NBA, as you can tell by my looks … the next best thing is, let’s get everyone on my staff … from the NBA.”

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